The controversial decision by the Hays County Commissioners Court to not place a second polling location on Texas State's campus has some claiming voter suppression is taking place ahead of the Oct. 13 early voting start.
On Aug. 25, the court voted against adding a second polling location on campus for the general election, limiting campus voting to the Performing Arts Center. This decision was made despite a history of long voting lines at the university and strong support for an additional location, both on and off-campus.
During previous elections, students were forced to wait hours to cast a ballot at the LBJ Student Center polling location. In some instances, the lines stretched well beyond the center, which was the only polling location available on campus. During the 2020 primary election, some students waited in line for up to five hours to cast their votes.
Hays County Commissioner for Precinct 4 Walt Smith voted against adding an additional polling location on campus. He says long lines are a result of a lack of student preparedness.
“I talked to election workers, and the real issue was voters checking in. Most of the other locations didn't take as long to check in individual voters," Smith said.
Smith says students need to make sure they have everything necessary with them to vote, such as proper identification, and check beforehand to make sure they are registered.
“The vast majority of those voters at the Texas State location didn't get in line until after four o'clock in the afternoon the day of the election,” Smith said. “At other locations, you have a gradual flow of people who come in all day, every day, throughout the voting process. At Texas State, what you had instead was students just dropping by between classes or whatever.”
Smith says an extra polling place is not necessary because of the county-wide voter program implemented by the Hays County Elections Office.
In 2019, the Hays County Commissioners Court appointed a Citizens Election Commission to advise the court on polling locations in the county. Sandra Tenorio was appointed to the Elections Commission in 2019 and was part of the vote to place another polling location on Texas State's campus.
Tenorio says the Citizens Elections Commission voted in favor of placing a second polling location on campus, but the Commissioners Court chose not to take its advice.
“It would make sense that they would follow our advice, but it's a political time, and unfortunately, we live in an environment where things are divvied up in terms of partisan [politics],” Tenorio said. “The Commissioners Court made their decision, and there's nothing we can do about it.”
For Tenorio, the decision to vote in favor of a second polling location for the campus came down to the dense population at Texas State. She thinks it is only natural to place polling locations in densely populated areas.
“One of the things we need to do is educate people to vote early, which is how we are going to overcome the hurdles of partisanship," Tenorio said.
Catherine Wicker is a graduate student in public administration and the student lead for the Texas State Campus Vote Project. She voted at the LBJ Student Center in 2018 when the wait to vote was three hours long.
Wicker does not believe there were enough voting machines, which contributed to the long lines, and believes having an extra polling place on campus would help alleviate long wait times.
“[The Commissioners Court] obviously [has] partisan intentions," Wicker said. "They can say it's students not being prepared, but what they are doing is voter suppression by definition.”
Erika Kellogg, an education sophomore, says she believes the changed location may negatively influence student voter turnout.
“I feel like a lot of people aren't going to know where to go and aren’t going to want to travel that far,” Kellogg said. “The LBJ [Student] Center is so central to everyone, and it’s easier for students to get there.”
Kellogg did not experience the long wait lines that others did in previous elections but still believes there should be a second voting location on campus due to the size of the student, faculty and staff population. She says even though the size of the PAC will assist with social distancing, she is still concerned it may not be enough.
“Even without COVID, Texas State should have more than one location, but now with the pandemic, I feel like it’s not functional at all because of how many students are going to use this one location," Kellogg said.
Early voting at the Performing Arts Center will take place Oct. 13-30. The PAC location will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays.
The PAC will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the final week of early voting Oct. 26-30 and on Election Day Nov. 3.
For additional information on voting in Hays County, visit The University Star's 2020 election voter guide.